The Original Bootleg Series From The Manticore Vaults: Vol. One (Sanctuary Records CMXBX309)
The common wisdom regarding ELP’s bootleg series is that it’s for the hardcore fan, the one who is willing to wade through inferior audience recordings. I disagree with that and would say that the Bootleg series are the place to begin investigating ELP. Rock and roll, and especially prog rock, and even more especially Emerson Lake and Palmer, are best experienced live. And since they are no longer touring as a band, it is only through bootlegs one can hear what a devastating live band they really were.
Volume one contains four shows dating from a one year period between September 1971 to August 1972. This was the time when ELP were writing, recording and promoting Trilogy, their third studio album. There are several ways an artist may go when releasing archival live recordings. One way is to use soundboard recordings gathering dust in the archives and remastering them for official release. Another tactic is to clean up and release the audience recordings that are in circulation. In practice, the artists who are releasing archival material like Bob Dylan’s bootleg series, King Crimson’s Collectors’ Club, The Doors Bright Midnight and Jimi Hendrix Dagger Records do both.
But one of the complains leveled against this project is only actual bootleg recordings are used with what sounds like little mastering. Most are audience tapes and they’ve all been released before. It’s a wonder why ELP didn’t use soundboard recordings that are (one assumes) sitting and collecting dust in their vault. The same indolence plagues much of their archival releases such as the In The Beginning DVD as well.
And whomever assembled these sets could also have been more comprehensive. In beginning with the Bronx 1971 tape, they leave out almost a year of shows that could have been included (and shows which Siréne and Virtuoso have subsequently issued). On the plus side, these boxsets do make available bootleg recordings that have been out of print and hard to find. And the price for four titles is extremely reasonable. Each title is packaged in a single pocket cardboard sleeve with a bootleg-looking insert glued onto the cover, and each box holds the four with a poster and liner notes giving cursory information about each concert. It is a nice touch. Following are comments about each of the four shows.
The Stratosphere Vs The Spectre (aka Stomping Encore) (CMDDD311)
Gaelic Park, New York, NY – September 1st, 1971
Disc 1 (51:14): The Barbarian, Take A Pebble, Tarkus
Disc 2 (31:48): Knife Edge, Rondo, piano interlude (including part of Fugue), Hoedown
ELP made their first trip to the United States in the spring of 1971 starting with their very first US show in Theil College in Pennsylvania. Their show in Gaelic Park in the Bronx comes during a hectic time in their touring schedule. It essentially closed the second US tour of the year which began on July 17th in San Diego. A very good and clear audience tape is used for this show, probably by the same one who taped Yes in July at the same venue. Highland pressed this tape as their first LP release on Stomping Encore (Highland HL085/086#EL1).
Manticore pressed the Highland for this collection which is unfortunate because there is another tape source for this show which is complete since it has “Time And A Place” after “Rondo.” Also the final two tracks on disc two are not from the Gaelic Park show but rather originate from the December 11th Birmingham, England show. It would have been great if the alternate tape were pressed instead of this.
So Stomping Encore contains almost the complete show. “The Barbarian,” which served as the most common set opener since the band’s beginning (and was at least played in every concert) opens Gaelic Park. It would be dropped from the set when the band resumed touring in the UK in November and replaced by “Hoedown.”
Emerson describes “Take A Pebble” as a song “that was recorded last year, a year ago, and it has changed quite a bit since we recorded it back in England.” The long twenty minute improvisation includes Greg Lakes bizarre “Blue Blues,” a song which he never officially recorded and seems to have only one verse: “well I had a dog and his name was Blue / bet you five dollars he’s a good dog too / Blue chased the possum up the cinnamon tree / The possum he found and Blue look up at me.” It appears in many versions of “Take A Pebble” during this period and sometimes has different lyrics. Emerson has his long piano solo in the middle before they return to the final verse.
Lakes takes the introduction for the next song and is rather long winded. “We’d like to play you the first side of our album which is out now and we hope you all bought because it makes us all a bit richer. It’s all about an armadillo and a tank. You listening or not? That’s good. Ok this is a story about an armadillo and a tank and he’s a mean bastard and he goes around beating people on the head.” At this point it becomes apparent why he’s speaking so much when he says off mic, “Is Keith alright? We got a little trouble here tuning the moog. OK. We’d like to play for you, and only for you, our latest rendition, it’s called ‘Tarkus.'”
The song would expand over the years, but they keep this to the point. There is no “Epitaph” reference. “Aquatarkus” is normally the section of the piece that receives the most improvisation, but Emerson doesn’t elaborate much on the theme in this performance. Perhaps he’s favoring an out of tune instrument. “Knife Edge” is segued nicely with “Rondo” which is twenty minutes long and contains Carl Palmer’s drum solo. The two additional from December 11th are short. The piano interlude is ninety seconds with a short reference to “Fugue” and “Hoedown” is a faithful rendition of the song that would be recorded for Trilogy. This is the earliest recording of their arrangement. The sound quality is good but there are noticeable speed problems through the track.
The Iridescent Concubine (CMDDD313)
Louisville Town Hall, Louisville, NY – April 21st, 1972
Disc 1 (48:59): Hoedown, Tarkus, Take A Pebble, Lucky Man, piano improvisation / Take A Pebble (conclusion)
Disc 2 (50:37): Abaddon’s Bolero, Pictures At An Exhibition, Nutrocker, Rondo
After recording and mixing Trilogy, ELP went on a six week tour of the US in March and April. The April 21st show in Louisville comes from the final week of the tour and is the penultimate tape in circulation from that tour (the April 28th show in Montreal is the last).
The Iridescent Concubineuses a very good and clear but flat audience tape of the entire concert. A cut at 24:36 in “Tarkus” is the only piece of music missing. Abaddon’s Bolero (Highland HL131/132#EL6) is the title copied for this release with no mastering on the part of the label. The Highland is out of print and is otherwise impossible to obtain, so this is a good way to hear the tape.
The show begins with “Hoedown” played at the same tempo as on the album. In future tours it would be speed up to heighten the adrenaline. Emerson’s introduction to “Tarkus” is quick, describing the armadillo with guns coming out of his head. The “Stones Of Years” section is dominated by some heavy Hammond organs and Emerson goes nuts on the moog during “Mass.” Afterwards the taper speculate they’re going to play “Knife Edge” but they get into “Take A Pebble” instead.
The second disc opens with another new song. Emerson introduces it, saying: “We’ve been busy recording our next album in England which we heard will be released over here in June. We haven’t got a title for the album yet. But one of the tracks on it is based on a figure in Greek mythology, the goddess of war known as Bologna. We’ve written a bolero which we called Bologna’s Bolero. And this is what it goes like.” Athena is the Greek goddess of war but the joke seems to go over everyone’s heads. “Pictures At An Exhibition” is cut down to fifteen minutes with the emphasis upon the “Great Gates Of Kiev” finale. Lake has fun scatting in the quick “Nutrocker” and the show closes with “Rondo.”
Celestial Doggie: The Lobster Quadrille (CMDDD312)
Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA – July 28th, 1972
Disc 1 (47:05): Tarkus, The Endless Enigma Part 1/The Endless Enigma Part 2, The Sheriff, Take A Pebble
Disc 2 (50:52): Take A Pebble (Reprise), Pictures At An Exhibition, Hoedown, Grand Finale (Rondo) (19:50)
ELP took May off before resuming touring with dates in Europe in June and July. They played their first and only two concerts in Japan before returning to the states for their second month long tour. The first date was on July 27th in San Francisco with Long Beach being the second night. Celestial Doggie: The Lobster Quadrille is an excellent audience recording remarkable in its clarity and presence.
It also is one of the most popular ELP bootlegs seeing many releases in different formats over the years. Two vinyl titles were produced in the seventies, 1972 America Tour (Pig’s Eye), the 3LP Tour Of The Americas Part 1 (An Aftermoth Record) and of course Celestial Doggie : The Lobster Quadrille. On compact disc it can be found on 1972 American Tour (BS 12/13) and on Long Beach 1972 (SELP-349-1/2).
Long Beach begins surprisingly with “Tarkus,” not “Hoedown.” They deliver an extremely aggressive and militaristic version of the fantasia and in “Aquatarkus” they get into the melody that would be used later for “Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2.” The ending of the piece delves into a strange melody that sounds like a carnival organ set to military snare beat. Lake begins the song alone with his acoustic guitar but Emerson and Palmer follow him in to complete the song. “Take A Pebble” continues with Emerson’s frantic piano.
The follow the “Endless Enigma” with “The Sheriff,” something Emerson says they’ve never tried out on stage before. The claim is untrue since they’ve been playing it since the spring tour. “Take A Pebble” has the normal construction with Emerson’s piano fugue following the first verse. “It’s drastic” Lake jokes when he comes in to sing “Lucky Man.” Lake begins the song alone with his acoustic guitar but Emerson and Palmer follow him in to complete the song. “Take A Pebble” continues with Emerson’s frantic piano.
“Pictures At An Exhibition” is sixteen minutes long and “Hoedown” follows almost as an afterthought. But the show ends with a wired version of “Rondo.” There is a mechanized moog beginning before the steam train engine starts off the song. Emerson gets into the “Star Spangled Banner” before Palmer has his long drum solo in the middle. The song comes to a crashing halt twenty minutes later. It’s one of the most fun versions of a song that can sometimes be hard to take.
Iconoclastic Madness (CMDDD314)
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga, NY – August 13th, 1972
(76:11): Hoedown, Tarkus, Endless Enigma Part 1 / Endless Enigma Part 2, The Sheriff, Take A Pebble / Lucky Man / piano improvisation / Take A Pebble (conclusion), Pictures At An Exhibition
The final show in the collection occurs several weeks after the Long Beach gig. The Saratoga tape is a very good to almost excellent audience tape. Previous releases include Tortured Dream (Dynamite Studio DS91E015), Pictures At An Exhibition (Oil Well RSC 027 CD), Nebula (Head) with some television appearances as filler, Live In The Rockies attributed to Colorado and Silver Sheriff.
Endless Enigma (Fire Power FP-011) is a two disc set with the complete show including “Rondo” at the end, a song that is missing from all the other incarnations including Iconoclastic Madness. Like with the Gaelic Park show, Manticore missed an opportunity to present the entire concert.
A tight “Hoedown” begins the show. “Tarkus” again reaches almost a half hour in length. The taper is able to pick up Emerson’s grunts of concentrations in the opening salvo of the piece. “Battlefield” includes the “Epitaph” reference. The ending of “Aquatarkus” is played in a similar way as Long Beach with the “Karn Evil 9″ reference, but Emerson also thrown in the “Star Spangled Banner” over Palmer’s military marching snare beat.
There is a commotion halfway through “Endless Enigma.” Emerson has to stop and ask the audience “what’s the problem? Can you see? Can these people in front just slide down. I’m sorry, carry on. And on that side too.” The song ends without incident and Emerson introduces it as being “inspired by a Salvador Dali painting called The Endless Enigma.”
For the following song “The Sheriff” Emerson says, “I don’t know quite what it’s inspired by but Greg’s gonna sing it for you.” There is a cut in “Take A Pebble” between the first piano improv and “Lucky Man.” The performance of the classic is stellar and at the end Lake announces, “the end.” The second piano improv includes a reference to Marseillaise.
This boxset is a good way to obtain these recordings in the best available sound quality, but it’s a shame that the Gaelic Park and Saratoga tapes are incomplete. It is something which, if ELP’s management were a bit more attentive, should have addressed. It also could have been more comprehensive by utilizing shows that have not had much circulation. Nevertheless this is a fun boxset to have.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)